U.S. Navy Aircraft History

By Tommy H. Thomason

Friday, March 3, 2023

Comparing U.S. Navy Swept-Wing Fighter Service Careers

 Every once in a while on the internet, with respect to U.S. Navy swept-wing fighters before the introduction of the F8U Crusader and the F4H Phantom II, I read something like "X did not have a very long service career" or plaudits for one that was more of an also-ran, if not an outright disappointment.

When I wrote U.S Naval Air Superiority once upon a time, I created an illustration of deployments by year by type for the Navy's first swept-wing fighters and the F2H-3/4 Banshee.

A deployment was defined as an extended one, i.e. at least six months. One to two-month shakedown cruises were not included.

By that figure of merit:

                         Years        Deployments

F9F-6/7            3               22

F9F-8               3                16

Total              ~5                 38

FJ-3                4                19

F7U-3            2                7

F11F               3                6

F2H-3/4        ~6               38

F4D-1           ~5               18 

F3H-2            7+            44

Note that engines and aerodynamics peaked with the J57/J79 and area rule, respectively, so the F8U Crusader and the F4H Phantom II had much longer careers than the fighters they replaced. Improvements thereafter were with avionics in the same basic airframes until the next significant innovation in engines, low bypass-ratio fans, were introduced with the F-14.

The earlier retirement of the F9F-8 relative to the FJ-3 when the F8U/F11F were available to deploy is a little misleading: the Navy elected to modify some -8s as -8Bs armed with the Mk 12 nuke and assign them to attack squadrons while waiting for the availability of the A4D Skyhawk.

Note that the F11F made one fewer deployment than the F7U-3 (and fewer were built), primarily because it was inferior to the F8U in almost every respect except handling qualities on approach. It was, of course, assigned to the Blue Angels and as a lead-in fighter in the Training Command for many more years. The Cutlass's short career?: most will have to wait for the publication of my F7U-3 book for a proper assessment of the reasons why ( a preview: it wasn't because it had an unacceptable accident rate, weak nose landing gear, unreliable engines, low thrust-to-weight, etc.)

With respect to the all-weather fighter requirement, the F3H is often cited as a failure and having a short career when in fact it was clearly superior to the others in terms of longevity of service with carrier air groups (the F4D was relegated to shore-based Marine squadrons as soon as the F4H became available). For those seven years, it was the only fighter in a deployed carrier air group that could engage and likely shoot down an incoming jet bomber in all-weather conditions. Supposedly underpowered, that was with respect to the fighters not lugging around big radar-guided missiles and the avionics necessary to use them effectively.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

A Brief History of USN Helicopter Minesweeping

 I had intended to post this here but inadvertently created it in my modeling blog. See http://tailspintopics.blogspot.com/2022/12/a-brief-history-of-usn-helicopter.html

 One comment there so far from Richard "RJ" Tucker:

Wow! Does this article take me back. I was on the USS Nashville (LPD-13) in 1981 when we deployed on a mine countermeasures deployment with four RH-53Ds from HM-14, two mine-sweeping boats in the well, and an EOD det. We were with the USS Leader and USS Illusive MSOs (Mine Sweeper Ocean). Lots of NATO mine counter measures exercises in the North Atlantic and Med. Great liberty! Lightning paced ops at the mind boggling speed of 8 kts.

He provided a link to a picture of Nashville with RH-53Ds on board:


Sunday, October 9, 2022

Barricade and Barriers Example

Every once in a while, someone posts a picture of a barricade engagement on an angle-deck carrier and refers to it as the barrier. Sometimes I comment that it is properly known as the barricade, not barrier, and the poster or someone else is offended at being incorrectly corrected.

For all I know, the big net, I'll call it, is now officially known as the barrier; certainly many refer to it as that. However, once upon a time, before angled decks, it was important to differentiate the barricade from the barriers, which are no longer needed on angled-deck carriers.

This is an illustration of the usual arrangement of cross-deck pendants, barriers, and the barricade on an Essex-class carrier:

Note that there are 12 cross-deck pendants (the last one of which goes across the elevator; it had to be puiled forward when the elevator was needed), five barriers, and one barricade. There are four control stations for the cross-deck pendants and one each for the five barriers. An enlisted man is assigned to each control station. In the case of the barriers, one of his responsibilities is to raise and lower his barrier as required, notably prop barriers to be up for prop plane approaches and down for jet approaches; Davis barriers are the reverse.

The difference between the original barrier and the Davis barrier is important. For a refresher, see https://thanlont.blogspot.com/2010/10/barriers-and-barricades-one-more-time.html

It was also important, in the event that the hook caught a late wire and a trap seemed assured, that the aft-most barrier be lowered if an arrestment seemed assured so the plane did not also engage a barrier, possibly causing damage to the plane and likely disrupting the flow of landings, delaying them.

This is a pretty good example of a late trap by an F9F Panther. The prop barriers are down and the Davis barriers, up. Note that the hook did catch a late wire/pendant but the first Davis barrier was still up. The plane's nose landing gear snagged its activator strap appropriately (there was also a retractable post immediately in front of the windscreen to activate the barrier in the event of a nose landing gear collapse).

Also note that in this instance, the Davis barrier cables (as opposed to the canvas activator straps) did not engage the main landing gear struts, which was how the jet was to be brought to a stop by the Davis barrier. That was because there was an engagement "window" with respect to the airplane's speed. Too slow, and the cables fell back to the deck before the main landing gear got to them; too fast, and the cables had not yet been pulled up high enough to clear the wheels and snag the struts (this latter case resulted in the addition of the barricade to the mix).

Saturday, August 20, 2022

North American PBJ-1H Carrier Suitability Evaluation

 In November 1944, the recently commissioned Shangri-La was used to conduct carrier evaluations of three aircraft, a Grumman F7F-1 Tigercat, North American a P-51 Mustang, and a North American PBJ-1H Mitchell. Click here for one report on the trials of the F7F and PBJ: http://steeljawscribe.com/2007/10/05/flightdeck-friday-more-oddities. Click here for my post on the Navy's involvement with the P-51: https://tailspintopics.blogspot.com/2011/06/seahorse.html

The otherwise stock PBJ-1H was modified to have a tail hook, catapult provisions, and main landing gear struts that could be swiveled 90 degrees so that it could be lowered on the deck-edge elevator and rolled sideways into the hangar.

Contrary to the "more-oddities" post, the PBJ did not have an SBD tailhook, per se. It would have been too short and possibly under strength. For some reason, the Mitchell's tail skid was deleted when the hook was added.

Catapult provisions included the standard hooks and hold back attachment:

Although the "more-oddities" post states that it was an additional evaluation of the carrier suitability of a tricycle landing gear airplane, my guess is that it was an improvement on a plan to use PBJs for close air support of landings on the Japanese main islands. The concept was to launch them from an aircraft carrier, à la Doolittle, and have them land back at an airfield for turnaround and to be craned back aboard an aircraft carrier to repeat. For one thing, an evaluation of carrier takeoff and landing suitability did not require a demonstration of the ability to strike a dud below deck.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Naval Fighters Number 113: Douglas F4D-1/F-6A Skyray by Nicholas M. Williams


This is a long needed update of Naval Fighters 13 by the same author published in 1984. "Greatly expanded" doesn't do it justice. Forget page count or number of illustrations: this soft-cover monograph printed on high-quality paper weighs a little over two pounds! If you didn't know already, it clearly demonstrates that Nick is the most knowledgeable F4D subject-matter expert.

He covers the lengthy and somewhat troubled development of the F4D in detail, both words and pictures. For example, much of the the account of its nearly disastrous first flight was new to me as were the difficulties in adapting the F4D inlets designed for the J40 engine to the J57. Both the Douglas development and the unit-by-unit histories of Skyray evaluation and operational usage are accompanied by first-hand pilot descriptions of its performance and flight characteristics, warts and all. There are 13 pages of F4D color photos spanning its entire career from initial flight test to its use by the Navy Test Pilot School as in one student's observation, "an interesting and not particularly dangerous 'horrible example' (of unusual flying qualities)".

The monograph concludes with several color pages of F4D model kits that have been produced since the early 1950s. A section of illustrations from the flight and maintenance manuals and closeup photos of details like the landing gear will also be of interest to modelers.

One relatively new and welocome feature of Steve Ginter's monographs is a Table of Contents. It is actually more of a non-alphabetical index but very helpful in quickly finding a topic of interest in its 257 pages like the Test Pilot School quotation above.

I was somewhat surprised that Nick didn't dwell on one of my favorite airplane hobbyhorses, whether or not the F4D was the Navy's first supersonic (in level flight) fighter. (For my opinion, click HERE.) He does describe Douglas' attempts to so (the proposed top speed was Mach 1.2). There is, of course, no question that it could easily break the sound barrier in a descent when not burdened with external fuel tanks or other stores. I'm all but certain that all anecdotal pilot statements that they had been supersonic had done so in a descent or were looking at an inaccurate Mach meter.

Note: Both Nick and I strongly encourage you to buy his monograph directly from Steve, avoiding the middlemen who would otherwise enjoy a significant proportion of the sale price, not Steve. I don't know if he's still offering it at 20% off of the list price, shipping cost included (probably good for the US only) but you might ask him at 805-404-7156.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Douglas A3D Skywarrrior and B-66 Destroyer Differences

 The U.S. Navy's A3D Skywarrior and USAF B-66 Destroyer are very similar airplanes from the same manufacturer, Douglas, initially with very similar missions, medium-range bomber. They look very much the same to the casual observer in a dim light. Some of the differences were necessary but not obvious: the carrier-based Skywarrior had to have folding wings, an arresting hook, and catapult hooks for starters. In fact, however, it's far easier to list what didn't change between the A3D and the subsequent B-66. For all practical purposes, you could say that the B-66 had the same basic overall shape as the A3D except that is, for the forward fuselage and the inboard wing trailing edge. And possibly the wing tips.

For one thing, they had different engines as evidenced by the different engine nacelles. Douglas was lucky to get in line early for deliveries of the new, USAF-funded P&W J57 when the Navy's Westinghouse J40 disappointed. J57 production was all but oversubscribed when the Air Force ordered the B-66 from Douglas so it was saddled with the Allison J71, which had about the same performance but was somewhat inferior in other respects to the J57, as evidenced by the much shorter list of airplanes powered by it.

This is a graphic depicting the most notable external features of the A3D that differentiate it from the B-66:

This one depicts the most notable features of the B-66 that differentiate it from the A3D:

In addition to those details, the two had different radars, bombing/navigation systems, tail-gun turrets, landing gear, wing incidence, inflight refueling probe locations, etc. 

I plan to create a post on one of my aircraft modeler oriented blogs that illustrate the differences in more detail.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Flight Deck Uniform Colors


The picture above was taken of the flight deck crew aboard Shangri-La, probably in 1955. Note the colorful combinations of jerseys and "helmets". These identified the specific duties of each man, officer and enlisted. The practice reportedly began in the beginning aboard CV-1 Langley. I know for certain that the color assigned to a specific responsibility changed over time.

For example (and I apologize for not knowing who created this illustration), in 1943:

From Introduction to Naval Aviation, dated January 1946:

Note purple is assigned to the "chockmen" although the color here could easily be considered blue:

And the "Fueling service crews" are apparently to wear the standard working uniform blue shirt and only be distinguished by red cloth helmets.

 However, in this 1954 picture of F9F Panthers being refueled, it is being done by men wearing both red shirts and red helmets.

Note that they do not have a large "G" on the back of their jerseys as stated in the 1963 first edition of The Naval Aviation Guide:

Note that the catapult crew are not specifically cited as wearing green and "gasoline crews" are wearing red shirts, not yet purple. In fact, purple isn't listed.

However, by 1970 according to Stars and Stripes, fuel crews were assigned the color purple:

From the 1972 edition of The Naval Aviation Guide:

From the 1985 edition of The Naval Aviation Guide:

And "today" (click HERE for a full size image):

And/or watch a video, HERE.

Another major change to the flight deck uniform at some point (the late 1960s?) was the introduction of plastic helmets (cranials) in place of the cloth ones and the requirement to wear life vests (float coats).